Feds seek networked nation

The Office of Homeland Security plans to launch within the next month one of several initiatives designed to develop a nationwide information technology enterprise architecture to improve information sharing and communications among federal, state and local agencies.

Officials aim to unveil a Web site that public leaders and business executives can access to share information on existing homeland security-related projects, best practices and centers of excellence, said Steve Cooper, senior director for information integration and chief information officer for the Office of Homeland Security. Cooper spoke last week at the Government Symposium on Information Sharing and Homeland Security in Philadelphia.

The Office of Homeland Security wants state and local agencies to provide the Web site with information about homeland security projects that other jurisdictions could emulate or join in on. Texas, for example, created an Emergency Response Network, which gives police, fire and medical emergency responders a way to discuss how to prepare and respond to emergencies and send out alerts on events.

Homeland Security officials hope that if information about the Texas network is on the Web site, other states or local governments with similar systems could find ways to link the systems, or those without systems could join the Texas network. Many local and regional information sharing programs are under way. For example, the Chicago Police Department has created a Citizen and Law Enforcement Analysis and Reporting System, which gives police officers access to information such as arrest records and neighborhood crime statistics to help target resources on the worst crime areas.

The system, which began in the mid-1990s as a local management and incident response system, has expanded since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to include local law enforcement agencies nationwide, said Karen Rowan, general counsel to the superintendent of the Chicago Police Department.

Rowan said that this program could be passed on to the federal level, but that the department would move forward with the program regardless of federal government policies.

The more projects and practices that the federal government can find and build on, the more likely a nationwide enterprise architecture will develop, Cooper said. "This Web site will enable us to begin to share and communicate what's going on," he said.

A collection of best practices, ideas and systems is desperately needed at the state and local levels because of the vast differences in expertise, resources and existing infrastructures, said Jose Cordero, chief of the Newton, Mass., Police Department.

Although incidents may occur locally, responses will almost always involve multiple jurisdictions because the impact often reaches beyond the location that was attacked. Therefore, interoperability and regional response mechanisms must be officials' primary concern, he said.

In another effort to reach out to state and local government, Office of Homeland Security officials met with the National Association of State Chief Information Officers earlier this month to start working on state requirements for the enterprise architecture. In that first meeting, officials dealt with the basic questions of definitions and the approach that should be taken, Cooper said.

Because local-level officials are dispersed, Homeland Security officials are still trying to determine the best way to contact them and keep in touch, he said. Officials are already working with organizations such as the National Governors Association and the National Association of Counties, but it is hard to find a central point for information technology leaders at the city and regional levels, he said.

Officials may find that the best way to reach everyone is to rely on the relationships already in place among federal agencies, their state counterparts and local officials, Cooper said.

"It is imperative that we all participate and that we get this enterprise architecture right," he said. "We have got to hear from everybody."

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